‘Donda 2’ needs work before official release // The Observer
Kanye West’s year 2022 has been full of pitfalls. Any followers of his Instagram account know that Kim Kardashian, Pete Davidson, Julia Fox and Kid Cudi are just a few of the names that have been on West’s mind in recent weeks. After months of delays for her tenth studio album, “Donda,” released in August, longtime fans were rightly skeptical of the legitimacy of a “Donda 2” project just six months later. To his credit, West debuted 16 new tracks — on time — at the DONDA 2 EXPERIENCE event in Miami last Tuesday. Although the project hasn’t been officially released, the draft listeners heard on Tuesday is worth considering as a messy, yet captivating array of styles, narratives, production and emotions from an unprecedented time in West’s life.
While West credits Future with executive producing the album, it was difficult to determine any stylistic direction on first listen. The LP appeared wildly unfinished, with mumbled verses and audio engineering errors strewn throughout the two-hour performance at Miami’s LoanDepot Park. Some production choices bear an uncanny resemblance to the album’s prequel, with an almost identical guest cast including Baby Keem, Travis Scott, Don Toliver, Vory, and Playboi Carti.
Interestingly, other tracks from the currently unreleased album diverge entirely from the sounds of 2021’s “Donda.” Fan track “Security” (Track 6), for example, is reminiscent of experimental project “Yeezus” and its brash atmosphere and gender destroyer. A difficult (but enjoyable) listen, West comes off as typically aggressive in his inflections with the line “I put your safety at risk,” an obvious allusion to his recent hostile feud with Pete Davidson.
As with any version of West, there are sure to be some highlights. The opener features the late XXXTENTACION chanting the hook “I thought I would die in your arms” over a piano beat before West enters, accompanied by a drum loop that samples the 2010 hit “Runaway” – nostalgic , it’s the least we can say. Track 3, fan-titled “Get Lost”, is a raw and emotional cut inspired by his frequent collaborator, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. West prefers no background instruments here, opting for pure, self-tuned vocals. Midway through the performance, West unleashes a trap banger in which he boastfully raps, “Who they waiting for? That’s Pablo” before passing the anthem to Travis Scott for the hook. To be clear, these records have the potential to be some of West’s finest in recent years – but not in their current form. Apart from a few initially exciting features and the occasional completed score, the album is clearly incomplete. Known for his perfectionism, the LP felt disappointing to fans who expect so much from West with each album release.
The rest of the live event was filled with lackluster performances from Jack Harlow, Soulja Boy, and even a disappointing encore from West himself. West gives the chorus of “Jail” to Marilyn Manson who, both offbeat and out of tune, butchers the song (originally released as part of “Donda”). Later, Migos appears on an inspiring and energetic trumpet instrument, but sounds uninspired and lacking in energy.
Vory, however, who was used frequently on the “Donda 2” prequel, shines in his solo interlude. Two minutes of violin guide him along angelic vocal intonations while keeping the theme of religious dialogue in “Lord, lift me up”. West’s Sunday Service Choir, likewise, follows suit with an acoustic worship hymn.
In many ways, the plan for “Donda 2” heard on Tuesday is as messy as Kanye West’s life. Conceptually, the project remains memorable, but it fails in execution. However, West still has time. The original “Donda” album took a dozen iterations and three listening events to perfect. West draws on thematic elements of divorce, spirituality, death, and mental illness, but in an uncoordinated or intentional way. A number of tracks on “Donda 2” attempt to push sonic boundaries, while others sound flat and haphazard. Given the inconsistency, it’s hard to imagine the LP will fit comfortably into West’s storied discography.
Artist: Kanye West
Album: “Donda 2” (unreleased)
Label: GOOD music, Def Jam Records
Favorite tracks: “Pablo”, “Lift Me Up”, “Security”
If you want: Pusha T, Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z
Clovers: 2 out of 5